Vice President Biden’s “moonshot” to cure cancer has been getting headlines since he first declared his intention:
“ …I believe that we need a moonshot in this country to cure cancer. It’s personal. But I know we can do this. There are so many breakthroughs just on the horizon in science and medicine. The things that are just about to happen…we can make them real with an absolute national commitment to end cancer as we know it today.”
Biden’s task force, pulling from many federal agencies, has begun work. Unfortunately, their goal may not be as clear-cut as landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth.
The term “moonshot” recalls the camaraderie and single-minded pursuit that characterized the Apollo program in the 1960s. But this moonshot has many more moving parts. A mélange of academic and corporate, public and private, for-profit and non-profit and other organizations are involved in cancer research.
Perhaps as a result, the goals and the methods are somewhat undefined. Treatments, prevention, and access will all have to figure into the plan. It’s a challenge—particularly because the proposed billion-dollar budget is less than the average needed to bring just one drug to market.
What the Moonshot Means for Pharma
There is secondary potential in the moonshot for the pharmaceutical industry. From conspiracy theories to valid issues, negative press about the industry abounds—much of it coming from politicians. Pharma’s good work—that saves lives every day—often gets shunted out of the spotlight. The moonshot may be the time to put it back on stage.
This is pharma’s opportunity to partner inside and outside of the industry—research, science, tech, academia, institutions—to help the moonshot land and help every cancer patient, present or future. It’s also our opportunity to use a positive national focus to demonstrate our dedication to patients.
As with the real moonshot, this is an opportunity to create goodwill and collaboration that captures public imagination and literally changes the future.
From Moonshot to Slingshot
In addition to big initiatives, we can make incremental advances every day. Think of projects that are small, personal, maybe even makeshift—i.e., “slingshot,” not “moonshot.” Like David and Goliath, we can use small tools to make a big difference.
We can develop ways to improve the patient experience to make it easier for patients, caregivers, and professionals to access knowledge, to make it easier for the right drugs to get to the right patients. Apps currently in development seek to do just that, from those that improve physician-patient communication to others that may someday be prescribed as treatment options.
While “moonshot” connotes the positive energy of the space program, it also brings to mind an enormous challenge. But today, we benefit from undreamed of technology, and that scientific capacity has seized the focus of the nation. Let’s use this moment and these capabilities to make the most of this groundswell of enthusiasm about medicine.